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Make Benchmarking Part of Your Pre-Planning Process

Planning, Scheduling & Risk

By Dr. Dan Patterson
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Without question, the most successfully executed projects are those with the best-laid plans. In turn, agreeing upon and understanding exactly “what we are going to build” (project deliverables) before diving into “how we are going to build it (the project plan)” is equally important.

Traditional project planning has focused on building a schedule and specifying the work (durations and sequence) required, rather than trying to align work required with agreed-upon deliverable dates. Scope management and scheduling have been seen as separate endeavors for too long.

The concept of pre-planning addresses this by bringing the two together. But in doing so, we need an effective means of not just establishing a top-down, deliverable-based plan, but more importantly, a means of validating that this plan is reasonable and achievable. Setting unrealistic expectations in the plan is as bad, if not worse, than missing the mark during execution itself. This is where “pre-planning” and benchmarking come into play.

 

A QUICK PRE-PLANNING OVERVIEW

Think of pre-planning as the precursor to building out a critical path method (CPM) schedule. During this early phase, you are defining a hierarchy of deliverables along with expected timelines.

To establish a hierarchy of deliverables, consider the concept of “planning packages.” These are used to define scope and identify associated deliverables without the need for the complexity of activities, logic links and calendars.

To establish timelines or durations for deliverables, you account for the size or quantity of deliverables (e.g., 30 km of pipe). Based on a combination of productivity rates and specified quantities, you can then derive durations. These are the timelines that you believe the actual work can be achieved within. This top-down estimate gives you a target to aim for when fleshing out the (bottoms-up) schedule.

Once you have established your top-down deliverable-based plan, you can then flesh out the details using traditional CPM scheduling techniques. The main benefit of integrating top-down with bottoms-up planning is the ability to compare the two, tracking whether or not the bottoms-up work plan satisfies the top-down estimates established during the pre-planning phase.

This is all well and good, and represents a highly effective technique, as long as your productivity rates are accurate. This is where benchmarks come into play.

 

BENCHMARK-BASED PLANNING

When building your top-down plan (establishing deliverables), wouldn’t it be useful to know what reasonable productivity rates are? For example, when defining a planning package for six concept drawings, knowing that a reasonable rate is five days per drawing would help in establishing a duration of 30 days. Not only is it a realistic duration, but it is defendable too – it has a sound basis.

Imagine you are building a plan and being prompted in real time about what realistic durations (and even costs) should be based on your deliverables. Sound a little too “Jetson’s-like”? It’s not actually. Today’s leading technology tools, such as InEight’s planning, scheduling and risk solution, deliver this capability.

As you build your top-down plan during the pre-planning phase, the tool provides organizational or industry benchmarks for what your durations and costs ought to be. Not only that, but it also shows you the consensus of these benchmarks, including historical performance data from your previously completed projects.

Of course, you as the planner still get to make the overarching decision as to whether you adopt the suggestion(s) or opt to proceed with your own estimate. Adopt your own estimate, and you can even visually see how that compares to the consensus from the benchmarks in your tool’s knowledge library. This gives you direction as to whether you are planning according to your organization’s standards or not.

 

TYING IT ALL BACK TO YOUR CPM SCHEDULE

So you’ve built your top-down plan using planning packages, and established your durations using the knowledge library benchmarks. You’ve then used this deliverable-based plan as a framework against which to flesh out detailed work using activities, logic, and so forth.

So how exactly does marrying the two help? Well, think about this: when you execute a project, you track performance by comparing your plan to your actual execution – this tells you how successfully you are executing your project. Well, now you can do the same for planning; by measuring your detailed plan against your benchmarked deliverable plan, for the first time, you can measure how realistic and achievable the plan is. That’s a huge step forward in the science of project planning.

We haven’t changed how to build a CPM schedule. Instead, we are now providing a means of measuring the realism of that CPM plan. Start with a realistic and achievable plan and you are already on the route to success before you’ve even started execution.

 

To learn more about InEight’s planning, scheduling and risk solutions, visit InEight.com.

About the Author

Dr. Dan Patterson

Dr. Dan Patterson is chief design officer with InEight. In this role, he focuses on expanding upon his vision of creating next-generation planning and scheduling software solutions for the construction industry. Dan is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI).